While hedge fund manager Ray Dalio generally stays under the radar, it is always interesting to read the thought's of the man who runs the world's largest hedge fund shop. This weekend Barron's did an extensive interview with the man, and it is worth the full read. He does a very interesting comparison of Europe now with "America" post revolution in terms of structure. Some excerpts below:
We're in a phase now in the U.S. which is very much like the 1933-37 period, in which there is positive growth around a slow-growth trend. The Federal Reserve will do another quantitative easing if the economy turns down again, for the purpose of alleviating debt and putting money into the hands of people.
We will also need fiscal stimulation by the government, which of course, is very classic. Governments have to spend more when sales and tax revenue go down and as unemployment and other social benefits kick in and there is a redistribution of wealth. That's why there is going to be more taxation on the wealthy and more social tension. A deleveraging is not an easy time. But when you are approaching balance again, that's a good thing.
How do you expect Europe to fare?
Europe is probably the most interesting case of a deleveraging in recorded history. Normally, a country will find out what's best for itself. In other words, a central bank will make monetary decisions for the country and a treasury will set fiscal policy for the country. They might make mistakes along the way, but they can be adjusted, and eventually there is a policy for the country. There is a very big problem in Europe because there isn't a good agreement about who should bear what kind of risks, and there isn't a decision-making process to produce that kind of an agreement.
We were very close to a debt collapse in Europe, and then the European Central Bank began the LTROs [long-term refinancing operations]. The ECB said it would lend euro-zone banks as much money as they wanted at a 1% interest rate for three years. The banks then could buy government bonds with significantly higher yields, which would also produce a lot more demand for those assets and ease the pressure in countries like Spain and Italy. Essentially, the ECB and the individual banks took on a whole lot of credit exposure. The banks have something like 20 trillion euros ($25.38 trillion) worth of assets and less than one trillion euros of capital. They are very leveraged.
Also, the countries themselves have debt problems and they need to roll over existing debts and borrow more. The banks are now overleveraged and can't expand their balance sheets. And the governments don't have enough buyers of their debt. Demand has fallen not just because of bad expectations, although everybody should have bad expectations, but because the buyers themselves have less money to spend on that debt. So the ECB action created a temporary surge in buying of those bonds and it relieved the crisis for the moment, but that's still not good enough. They can keep doing that, but each central bank in each country wants to know what happens if the debtors can't pay, who is going to bear what part of the burden?
What's your outlook for the U.S.?
The economy will be slowing into the end of the year, and then it will become more risky in 2013. Then, in 2013, we have the so-called fiscal cliff and the prospect of significantly higher taxes, as well as worsening conditions in Europe to contend with. This is coming immediately after the U.S. presidential election, which makes it more difficult. This can be successfully dealt with, but it won't necessarily be successfully dealt with. We have the equipment and the policy makers, and as long as policy is well managed, we'll be okay.
What of China and the emerging economies at this point?
They are doing much better in the following way: They were in a bubble, and when I say a bubble, I mean a debt explosion. Their debts were growing at a fast rate. Their debts were rising relative to income and they were growing at rates that were too fast. Those growth rates have slowed up significantly and probably will remain at a moderate pace. They are in pretty good shape but will be subject to the deleveraging of European banks.
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